You hold the power to change your outlook – and your life.
“I used to get depressed on the road, but I don’t anymore,” says trucker Koza Cole of Bellamy, Ala. Like Cole, you may find that too many days away from home and long hours spent alone behind the wheel give you a feeling of dissatisfaction with your career and your life.
But whether or not you’re happy is up to you, experts say. “When you look at a situation, you have a choice how to analyze it,” says social worker Barry Waltman. “You can always find something negative, but focus on the positive and on your priorities.”
Cole says he made a conscious decision to be happy. “We all have problems,” he says, but instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of his life, he started going to church and listening to gospel music. He also learned that happiness is a personal responsibility. “You can’t make everybody happy,” he says. “They can only be happy if they choose, and you can only be happy if you choose.”
The choices and changes required to create a better life often are not drastic. You probably don’t need to find a new fleet, leave trucking or get divorced to enjoy life to the fullest. Most of the time, changing your outlook requires only a positive perspective and a willingness to try new things.
Indeed, life is full of choices, says New York City psychiatrist Andrei Jaeger. “And it’s your perspective on reality that makes the biggest difference. But only those people who are unhappy with their lives and have some insight into what they are lacking start looking for change.”
While professional and personal satisfaction is what everyone looks for, Jaeger says most people, especially men, tend to be oblivious to the need to learn about themselves. It usually takes pain or discomfort before they realize they need to change. It’s especially easy as a trucker to have little social interaction for long stretches of time and to postpone that sort of personal reckoning.
“You have to reach a point where you feel not only that you’re alone but that the quality of your life isn’t good,” he says. “We could all find stuff about ourselves that could be better, but you have to ask yourself if you can live with who you are.”
That could point you toward personal change or changes in your work life.
“If giving up the trucking life is not an option, then you have to find other ways to achieve emotional satisfaction,” Jaeger says. “You have to live a little.” Jaeger suggests incorporating hobbies into your day, getting out of your truck and visiting places while you’re on the road, and keeping in closer touch with the people you love via cell phone.
“Exercise is also a wonderful tool to better oneself,” he says. Research “points toward the tremendously positive effect that exercise has.”
Whether you’re considering starting an exercise routine or making some other decision, weigh the possible outcomes of the many choices you face daily: Starting a new hobby instead of staring at the television. Choosing those greasy fries or a healthier dish. Making more time for your family or ignoring their needs.
If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll stay on the same road and reach the same destination. To make some positive changes in your life, grip your mental steering wheel and head in a new direction. Do that, and you may end up as contented with your life as is Jimmie Bounds, a company driver for McElroy Truck Lines. “I’ve worked hard, and I’m satisfied with what I’ve accomplished,” he says.
Just because you’re away from home a lot doesn’t mean you have to forego a learning program. From reading a book to getting a college degree, you’ll find tons of free information and interactive programs online.
www.university.barnesandnoble.com Dozens of free courses and reading groups, each taught by an expert. The courses cover computer skills, literature, business, foreign language, self-help and much more.
www.worldwidelearn.com Directory of online courses, accredited online degrees and other education.
www.usnews.com Go to the Education section to get more information about e-learning. Read articles on the topic and search for a specific course or degree.
www.bartleby.com Unlimited access to books and information on the web, free of charge. Read everything from Shakespeare to the Bible.
www.questia.com Online collection of complete books, journals and articles, searchable by word, phrase, title, author, or subject.
GET OUT AND GO
Why not enjoy seeing more of a city than the truck stop? Do some research online at www.roadsideamerica.com or pick up 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz. Here are five sights Schultz recommends.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Cape Canaveral, Fla., www.kennedyspacecenter.com, (321) 449-4444.
Where: 45 miles east of Orlando, 220 miles north of Miami.
Admission: $26 (Astronaut Hall of Fame, $14 admission.)
THE GREAT AMISH COUNTRY AUCTION, Shipshewana, Ind., www.amishcountry.org, (800) 860-5957. Where: 130 miles east of Chicago, 150 miles north of Indianapolis.
CARLSBAD CAVERNS NATIONAL PARK, Carlsbad, N.M., www.nps.gov/cave, (505) 785-2232. Where: 285 miles southeast of Sante Fe, 143 miles north of El Paso. Admission: $6.
GETTYSBURG NATIONAL MILITARY PARK AND CEMETERY, Gettysburg, Pa., www.nps.gov, (717) 334-1124. Where: 30 miles south of Harrisburg; 210 miles southwest of New York City. Admission: Free.
INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM, Washington, D.C.,www.spymuseum.org, (866) SPY-MUSEUM. Where: 800 F St. NW. Admission: $11.
BLUES BUSTERS: A BAKER’S DOZEN
- FIND SOMEONE TO TALK TO. If you can’t take someone with you on the road, try to be sociable when you are around others. Try to talk about important issues with your family and friends.
- EXERCISE REGULARLY. Even a mild workout – a long walk or a short run around the truck stop – if done three or four times a week, does wonders.
- WATCH WHAT YOU EAT. Avoid the all-you-can-eat truck stop buffet. Stick to a diet of fruits, vegetables, fish and white meat. Avoid anything fried, meats with fatty sauces and salty snack food.
- QUIT OBSESSING. If you sit and think about a problem for 10 hours straight, it only gets bigger and bigger without being solved.
- DON’T BLAME OTHERS. Everyone is quick to find someone to blame for their lack of joy. Remember that you are responsible for your own happiness.
- ASSERT CONTROL WHERE YOU CAN. Just because you don’t have authority over your carrier’s staff doesn’t mean you can’t communicate professionally and forcefully about your schedule, settlements and other matters of importance.
- TAKE CARE OF YOUR PERSONAL APPEARANCE. When you’re on the road for days, it’s easy to ignore how you look. Knowing you look your best and getting the respect that a professional appearance wins from strangers will make you feel better.
- AVOID NEGATIVE PEOPLE. If the truck stop bull session turns poisonous, ask for your check. Chronic complainers want to bring others down to their level.
- GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Irregular and inadequate sleep contribute to depression. Arrange your schedule so you can get the sleep you need.
- STAY HEALTHY. The rate of depression in people with some chronic illnesses, especially cancer, heart disease and diabetes, is high.
- TREAT YOURSELF TO THINGS YOU ENJOY. While in the cab, listen to your favorite music or an audiobook. When time allows, get away from the truck stop and visit a local attraction.
- GET A PET. Studies indicate that pets boost morale and lower blood pressure.
- RESIST ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO. Alcohol is a depressant. Depressed people are more likely to smoke and to have a harder time quitting.